The Scrogue’s Guide to Denver and the DNC: beer and brewpubs
Colorado has, over the past 15 years or so, established itself as a genuine microbrew mecca, and just about every place you walk into either makes their own or is serving up something produced by one of our many local breweries. We host the Great American Beer Festival every fall, and while we tip our caps to all the great micros in other places around the country, most of us around here are convinced that Denver is the best city for beer in the country.
Before I dive in, let me offer a caveat. I love beer and have tasted just about everything I’m going to mention below (and a lot more), but I have my blind spots. I’m all about the malts and aside from wheats in the warm months I rarely drink anything lighter than an amber. If you’re a hophead or love things like blondes and pilsners, I’m not an ideal source of wisdom. So, a couple suggestions. First, ask the bartender and request a taster when you see something that looks to have potential. Second, we recommend you investigate what Beer Advocate has to say. They have reviews for just about every beer in the world and those reviewers are serious brews connoisseurs.
Now, pull up a stool.
Places to Go
There’s no way to do justice to all of our brewers and pubs, but let’s point DNC visitors toward some of the better tasting opportunities around town.
First, if you want to sample as many beers as possible, we recommend you try Old Chicago and the Falling Rock Tap House. Falling Rock, located at 1919 Blake (just around the corner from Coors Field) serves up a massive selection of American micros, including a couple dozen of Colorado’s finest offerings. Still thirsty? They have a lot more selections in bottles.
You may be familiar with Old Chicago already – the chain operates dozens of stores across the country. You may not know that it started here – the first location was on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, and the Denver Market St. store, which DNC attendees will probably walk past several times a day, is one of the oldest and most established stores in the chain. We recommend them for pizza (more on that in an upcoming post), and it’s also a great spot to sample brews. They serve 110 beers, and at any given moment will have a wide selection of Colorado micros on tap and in bottles.
Rock Bottom is another national restaurant chain that started right here in Denver (in fact, the Rock Bottom group owns Old Chicago and the ChopHouse as well as Walnut Brewing) and store #1 sits on the 16th St. Mall, not far from all the DNC activities. If you visit Rock Bottom, we advise you to sample widely. We’ve never been terribly impressed with their regular run selection (although the Molly’s Titanic Brown is pretty good), but their rotating taps and seasonals are often outstanding. And the food is just great – it’s tasty and comes in big portions. That’s something to remember on those busy days where you may only have time to eat one meal. If you’re in Boulder, Walnut Brewing is pretty much a Rock Bottom.
Another place with good food, a mixed bag of regular run beers and great rotating taps and seasonals is Breckenridge Brewery, located at 2220 Blake Street. The two beers that are always on tap (I think) worth checking out are the Avalanche Amber and the Pandora’s Bock. Avalanche is a typical amber of the sort that most places around here make, and the bock is fantastic – their best offering by far. Also, sample the small batches and seasonals, because they may have something really special going on.
Denver’s first brewpub was the Wynkoop Brewery, located at 18th and Wynkoop in LoDo. (One of the founders was our mayor, John Hickenlooper, who was a major player in the development of the whole LoDo district. I, for one, am a big J-Loop fan.) Not only does Wynkoop produce some of the absolute best beers in town (Railyard Ale is really popular, the Wixa Weiss is a great wheat, and the Quinn’s Scottish hails from the “robust and malty” school of brewing that was so well known to my ancestors), it’s also one of our best restaurants. The menu features everything from upbeat pub dishes to more advanced culinary offerings, including game like elk, venison and buffalo. The second floor, a massive billiards room, is one of the best social hangouts in town, too. In sum, Wynkoop is where we usually take out of towners that we’re looking to impress.
Another of our favorite places is Paramount Cafe, located a little further uptown at 519 16th St. An especially good choice for sandwiches and burgers, Paramount serves the Big Nose collection of beers: Red, Brown and Wheat. Unless things have changed they don’t brew these themselves – they’re commissioned from another Denver brewery – but the red, in particular, has always been one of my favorites. Paramount also does a lot of live music, so it might be a great place to wind down after a day of hard politicking.
I mentioned the ChopHouse yesterday in the steak house review, and noted then that they’re also a brewpup. Like most brewpubs in town you’re probably not going to love everything, but their across-the-board quality is unusually good for a place that produces a wide variety of micros. If they’re doing the bourbon stout (no promises here – since it’s summer they may be focusing on lighter varieties) grab it.
CB & Pott’s is a small sports bar/brew pub chain with locations all over the Denver Metro area, and if you’re staying somewhere on the perimeter (Tech Center, Broomfield, Westminster) you may be near one of their stores. It’s an awesome place to catch a game, the food is good and the beers can be excellent (they’ve won medals at both the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup). The Big Red IPA and Buttface Amber are popular regular taps, and you should also inquire about seasonals and small batches.
Gordon Biersch is a national chain that you may already know about, and I mention it here because the Broomfield location serves up great (if slightly overpriced) food and the occasionally fabulous beer. Their best offerings tend to be the seasonals, so ask for a taster. Located in the Flatirons Mall.
Mountain Sun, Southern Sun and Vine St. Pub and Breweries: Mountain Sun is classic Boulder, and so is Southern Sun, its second Boulder location. Tasty (and appropriately healthy, since it’s in Boulder) sandwiches and lighter entrees and a variety of truly outstanding micros. I haven’t been to their newest location – 17th and Vine in Denver – but if it’s like the other two locations it’s a major recommendation. Mountain Sun is at 1535 Pearl St. in Boulder and Southern Sun is at 627 South Broadway.
Now, a couple of places that are hugely popular with us scrogues. When we get together for socials, strategy meetings and whatnot, we tend to wind up either at Pint’s Pub (221 West 13th Ave., near Civic Center Park) or the Bull & Bush (4700 Cherry Creek South Dr). Both are modeled on English pubs and both take their hand-crafted beer seriously. Pint’s (which we’ll be talking about more when we get around to Scotch) makes six varieties of ale, two of which are cask-conditioned “real ales”. I tend to have my favorites in most places, but honestly, I like all six of these equally.
Bull & Bush is located a bit further way, but if you’re looking for a relaxed atmosphere, good pub fare and great micros this is about as good a spot as you’re going to find in Denver. Ask about special tap and seasonal offerings, and taste it all.
Brews and Brands
If you’re dining or recreating in a place that doesn’t brew its own, you may wonder which of these brands you’ve never heard of are worth trying. As always, ask the bartender for advice, and be aware that most places will gladly serve you a taster to help you make up your mind. That said, here are some of our favorites (and we’ve been sucking suds in this town since the early ’90s).
Flying Dog Brewing: Flying Dog is pretty national these days, so you may already be familiar with their beers. As they’ve grown quality has suffered, sadly, but the wheat remains a solid choice and the Horn Dog Barley Wine is insanely good. It’s also insanely high gravity, so don’t plan on driving. They also have a new marsbier, Garde Dog, out this summer, and it’s light (high “drinkability”) and flavorful – a really good choice for a hot evening, which we may be having while you’re here.
New Belgium Brewing: Like Flying Dog, they’ve gotten big and have paid the price quality-wise. However, 1554 Belgian Black remains a tasty darker option and the Sunshine Wheat – a wonderfully seasoned hefeweizen – remains one of the best brews of its kind in the state.
Avery Brewing: Located in Boulder, Avery has been a big favorite of the locals for a lot of years. I personally think their small batch bottles (you’ll probably have to find your way to Argonaut Liquors on Colfax for one of these) are their best beers, but their IPA, 14er ESB, Ellie’s Brown, Out of Bounds Stout and Redpoint are all worthy.
Left Hand Brewing: Longmost-based Left Hand merged with (or bought – I was never really sure) Tabernash a few years back, and the combined operation has been a good one. Their Sawtooth Ale is a popular amber that’s good year-round, but the two grand slams on the menu are the Milk Stout (one of the state’s very best darker micros) and the Haystack Wheat (which used to be the Tabernash Weiss), which along with the New Belgium mentioned above sits atop the pile for wheats in Colorado.
O’Dell’s Brewing, based up the road in Ft. Collins, produces one of Colorado’s favorite beers, 90 Shilling Ale. This rich, austere amber will turn up on a lot of menus, and you’ll also see their pales, wheats and darker varieties, as well.
A few years ago Oskar Blue’s Brewing became the first US microbrewery to beginning canning its own beer, and the move has been successful enough that now even New Belgium has started migrated some of its beer to cans. It’s not all about the delivery method, though – their Dale’s Pale and Old Chub are particularly good beers, having earned all kinds of acclaim from critics around the country.
Twisted Pine Brewing is an interesting case. They’ve won some prestigious medals and are ubiquitous in the Denver area, although I’m not sure they’re really accorded as much respect as they’ve earned. You’ll see them on menus, and the award-winning Amber, Brown, Stout and Red are recommended. If you’re in Boulder, you can stop by the Tap Room at 3201 Walnut St.
It’s going to be hard to try all of these fine establishments and micro varieties in just four or five days, but we hope you’ll like what you do have time for. The craft brew movement has been a wonderful thing for our culture because this is America’s true beer heritage. Not large corporations cranking out homogeneous lagers, but locals making beer in small batches, by hand, and selling to those in their own communities.
This is as authentic as it gets. Enjoy.